Depression

“Turning Depression into Inspiration” by Michael Todd.

The above link is a GDC Vault presentation about being a game designer while being depressed. I hope they never take it down. The presentation itself is okay in terms of organization and style but it is excellent in broaching a taboo topic. How do we as designers create joy for players when we cannot create joy for ourselves? We should be able to talk about this. How do we sell ourselves as artists when we hate ourselves? Interesting questions without straightforward answers.

Absurd Rules

On the day after the NBA champion is crowned and speculation begins on byzantine labor rules, Chuck Klosterman waxes poetic about a completely irrational NBA rule that somehow ends up making better games despite its inherent (depending on your philosophy) unfairness. Sports strive for balance; they are designed to be non-exploitable. That a minor rule has acted like an exploit for the entire modern history of professional basketball seems absurd.  What is more important: a rule that dovetails with the accepted mores of the game or a rule that makes for more exciting play, even if it is generally unfair?

You win

So, have you seen Space Funeral? Probably not. It’s an indie RPG beatable in about an hour. At first it looks like a kind of punk random-for-the-sake-of-offending-the-senses aesthetic, but there is some really smart/funny bits in there and a fun ending with great music throughout. I’d rather not spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that. Better than many/most of the $30 DS JRPGs I’ve played.

 

Designers are Necessary

I seriously had a post in drafts about this very topic when Clint Hocking posts a link to this article by Don Norman of the Design of Everyday Things fame. Always upstaged by better communicators than myself, I point you to go read it. It is everything I wanted to say in a better package. The analogy of local maxima is particularly accurate.

The reason I had a post brewing is that I had a pair of recent interviews that both included a discussion of “Quantitative Design” versus “Intuitive Design”. These are the words that both interviewers used. I do not endorse the terms. The reason I do not endorse “Intuitive Design” is that it seems almost pejorative. I’ve seen truly intuitive designers who made decisions by the seats of their pants where whatever came to mind was right. How can you question them? Their reasons for making the decision is simply that the decision “feels right”. The label of “intuitive design” conjures images of diva-like egos dictating on whim. Scientific minds reject gut feeling and glom quantitative design where you create an A/B test and count up the results. Numbers are concrete. They must provide truth, right?

Yet show me a breakthrough that has come about via A/B testing. A/B testing works in a controlled environment where there is no possibility of a C, D or E and where both A and B provide a similar level of familiarity. So what if the test itself is poorly designed? How do we determine that? By testing the test? Then testing the testing test? Turtles all the way down. At some point you need human creativity to step in and make judgements. That’s obvious, of course, but it is worth noting to those who think quantitative testing reveals the word of God.

Testing in many forms is absolutely crucial. It is the results of playtests that need to inform the decisions of forward-thinking designers. My objection from the start is in the “versus”. It suggests that these two camps in extremis are the only pure methods, that only Farmville and Crazy Indie Game can exist. There has never been an original game designed solely by quantitative design, nor will there ever be. All it can do is take two or more items that already have been designed and judge the merits in isolation. While there certainly have been games designed wholly by intuition, I’ve never had experience where one could not be improved by a little scientific playtesting.

Many designers feel threatened by the recent “social” game trend towards phasing out the opinions of trained designers replacing them with “designers” who simply run A/B tests and interpret results. I am not scared. Studios that value giving customers something new will, by necessity, need trained creative designers.

Interstitial

It’s pretty damning for a blogger to not post for more than two-weeks. I’ve lost the link that showed a study between post density and traffic, but rest assured that quantity is indeed a component. So I apologize for being quiet recently. Work is busy and my free time is spent gearing up for GenCon.

I’m bringing the Airport game I blogged about recently to show to publishers and also quickly adapted a design I had shelved in 2009 after randomly coming upon a novel theme and scoring mechanism for the whole thing. It’s tenatively called New York Minute. I rudely threw that together with Gloriana’s help and so I’m bringing two well-tested (I got a lot of reps with NYM in its previous incarnation. It’s a pretty good game that lacked a theme and felt a little arbitrary. It was surprisingly easy to fix.) games to the show and hope to get some useful feedback from the publishing folk.

When I come back, I’ll post a full recap of the goodies of GenCon and then I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule. I’ll leave you with a link to a very hyped new blog that posts the tired and I thought defeated argument that you can divide price by hours and get some sort of enjoyment metric, as if enjoyment was measured in hours and not something more flighty like utils. These articles are inevitably written by college kids or people who generally have the time to fully appreciate 100+ hour titles where people with demanding jobs or kids or a life really appreciate getting a full experience in a digestible amount of time, even if that makes the price/hour metric all outta wack.

Methane

Since I linked to it the other day and since I am filling my wall with posts on it, I thought I’d draw more attention to Ian Bogost’s brilliant distillation of social games called Cow Clicker and his subsequent explanation of the inspiration for it on his blog.

In short: you click on a cow to get points. Why do you need points? Well… you can compare with your friends! And you can buy cutely named Mooney to get different cow types!

I was talking to my fiancee yesterday who is a huge user of all these social game doodads and she was distressed that her dog in Farmville had ran away because she wasn’t there to click on it or feed it or whatever you do in that game these days. Cow Clicker is very lax in that particular interpretation of the “Social” Dogma. If you don’t click your cow, nothing bad happens to you, which is one of the key psychological footholds of the genre. You don’t lose anything and you don’t let your friends down. It’s the sense of obligation, of slavery to these mindless activities that makes me find Facebook games so insidious, especially after having worked on one. Not only are your friends not human beings but resources, but conversely you are a cog in their machine. It’s surprising for me to say that Cow Clicker isn’t insidious enough. Maybe that is the point? Maybe because we expect it to be more insidious that just shows how miserable the state of affairs truly is?

Cow Clicker is more interesting satire than, say, Progress Quest simply because instead of making a statement that looks like the antecedent (as in the latter), it attempts to fully emulate its target and strip it down enough that its internals show but not so bare that it fails to emulate the same mechanics and dynamics.

Whatever this school of design is that eschews the fuck-the-users mentality, it needs a name and a little badge that I can put on my profile and level up.